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Shetland’s role in the First World War

Converted to fighting ships, the merchant cruisers were armed with guns to stop any ship they met, and fend off an attack if need be. These gunners are on H.M.S. Almanzora - Photo: Shetland Museum and Archives

SHETLAND’s important role in Britain’s blockade of Germany during the First World War is being highlighted in a new exhibition that opens at Da Gadderie in the Shetland Museum on Saturday.

The islands were crucial to the Allies in the First World War – not as a source of manpower, but because of its geographical position.

Operating from a forward base at Swarbacks Minn, converted merchant vessels patrolling the high seas played a strategic role in the longest campaign of the war.

The successful blockade crippled Germany’s war effort as it meant the country couldn’t get the supplies needed to feed its war machine.

The 10th Cruiser Squadron patrolled the North Atlantic and the northern North Sea, on the lookout for ships day and night, challenging all it found.

Neutrals were redirected to Lerwick, where the Navy searched them and sent them on to British ports to offload cargoes, and the government seized any contraband.

The exhibition, which runs until 12 October, gives an idea of the living conditions on the vessels based at Swarbacks Minn.

It also shows how local firms benefited by supplying beef, bread and beer, as well as crewmen buying produce from local women, while fishermen sold catches.

The museum has also produced teachers’ resources packs as part of the First World War schools programme.

Presented by Shetland Museum and Archives, the exhibition is part funded by Lerwick Port Authority.

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